Warrior's Ransom (The First Argentines #2) - Jeff Wheeler Page 0,1

his shoulders back, preparing his muscles for battle. His position gave him a powerful advantage. He was on the crest of a dune, which would require them to attack uphill. And their horses would be more wearied from the ride.

Dappled grunted, sensing the approaching danger. Ransom kept his eyes fixed on the incoming riders, the first of whom lifted hornwood bows. He waited, gazing at them. Black shafts lifted up into the sky and came pelting down around him, sticking into the sand. One came straight for his chest, but Ransom didn’t flinch. He felt the ripple of magic and twisted at the last moment. Several more volleys of arrows came, and soon black fletching and shafts littered the ground nearby. He waited, unperturbed. So did his mount, which was an unusual beast and seemed to share its rider’s confidence.

When the bandits began riding up the rise, Ransom finally reached down and drew his bastard sword, the one he had received from the armory in Tatton Grange in Westmarch. His lips felt chapped as he licked them. He observed the riders, looking for the leader, trying to sense which man he should target. As his gaze fixed on one specific person, a sense of understanding crept down Ransom’s back. This was no well-organized or outfitted crew. They were a ragged band, with fur pelts sewn into their clothes, and those not holding the bows held curved scimitars. The leader rode straight at Ransom, his aim unfaltering.

Ransom felt the rushing of the falls inside his mind. He leaned forward in his saddle, listening to the thump of hooves on sand. Only twenty. He’d faced more than that when Lord DeVaux’s men had ambushed him all those years ago. It was the voyage that had begun to twine his fate with that of the Argentine family, although his connection to them had been severed with the death of Devon Argentine, the Younger King. Still, even a year later, his mind lingered on what he’d left behind. On whom he’d left behind. He gripped the reins loosely in his left hand and glanced down at the braided, fraying bracelet he wore there. Many of the strips of leather had broken loose during this journey. The silver ends with the Gaultic design had tarnished. But Claire de Murrow, the woman he admired above all others, had given it to him, and so he’d kept it, doing his best to keep it intact.

He hadn’t heard from her or about her in a year, but the thought of her soothed his soul like nothing else.

Shouts came from the attacking raiders, whooping cries meant to frighten him. He wasn’t afraid. He simply lifted his sword, waiting patiently for them to get close enough.

As they swarmed him, Ransom began to fight. He killed the leader in the first pass and heard him topple from the saddle and bite into the sand. He deflected another scimitar and countered with a killing thrust. His ears heard every sound, every snort, every cry of rage, every moan of pain. Dappled flailed hooves, striking the horse of an advancing rider and biting another horse that came too close. Some of the raiders had rushed past him, heading to the caravan. Ransom blocked and parried, swinging Dappled around in a circle. He killed three more, leaving the remaining attackers rushing toward the caravan.

He whistled for Dappled to charge and went after them. The sleek stride of his powerful warhorse quickly overcame the band. He lopped off one man’s arm as he passed and rode alongside another, who shrieked in panic when he noticed the knight bearing down on him. The man turned aside, forsaking the chance at plunder, and Ransom let him go.

Ahead, he saw the servants gripping spears and standing before the camels worriedly. The beasts brayed with concern, but they were tethered together in a circle and could not flee.

He killed three more men before they reached the caravan. The survivors fled down another hill, realizing they’d die if they didn’t abandon their objective. He’d killed eight of the attackers, and his breathing had hardly picked up. It almost frightened him how efficient he was at killing people. The darkness inside him swelled with pride. He tamped it down.

Kohler grinned down at him and offered a salaam, a gesture of respect from the desert world. “I don’t think we’ll have any more trouble before we reach the oasis.”

The Chandleer Oasis was an impressive sight in the middle of the desert. On